I haven't gotten rich — by a long shot — in terms of money. However, I've grown very rich in experiences. Experiences that as a young boy, growing up in a small town in east Alabama, I never thought I would see or do.
I spent much of my professional life at Auburn University — my alma mater. Starting at the bottom of the pack as an assistant editor, I made it all the way to editor and department head, even assistant director of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station at one time.
During my career at Auburn, I had the time and good fortune to write, both as a freelance writer and as a contributing writer as part of my job, for agricultural magazines all over the world, including Farm Press.
Like most parts of agriculture, the farm media has shrunk, or more correctly been combined from a number of small magazines to a few big ones. That's true, even on an international basis. I used to write stories for Misset Publications, headquartered in Holland, which is now part of Reed Business Publications, and I believe the largest publisher of agricultural magazines in the World.
I'm not sure just yet whether being a ‘diversified’ ag journalist is a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, I know a little about everything from strip-tillage to genetically modified chicken virus vaccines. On the other hand, I don't know a great deal about any facet of agricultural production.
I worked for several years for two large, and now defunct, agricultural advertising agencies. I like to think I didn't have much to do with the demise of either. At the time I worked there, Fletcher Mayo and Associates was the largest agricultural-based advertising agency in the World.
I met some unforgettable characters at the agency and among clients like Union Carbide, Shell Ag Chemicals and Dow-Elanco. I learned a lot about cotton, peanuts and tobacco, and too much about Temik, Sevin, Dyanap and host of organic phosphate pesticides that I now have an allergic reaction to.
In traveling in North Carolina and Virginia during the first few weeks of my job with Southeast Farm Press, I have been surprised at how many Union Carbide and Uniroyal sales and technical people I worked with back in the late 1970s and early 1980s are still around in that area.
Though ag chemical companies have been bought and sold and many have changed names several times during my career, the sales and technical people seem to weather the storms of change and move on in the industry. As one long-time ag chemical peddler told me last week, “I've done the same thing for over 20 years for the same company, but I have had five different job titles and five different business cards (to account for sales and mergers of the company).”
Over the years, many of the ag specialists and researchers at Land-Grant universities have, like me, taken early retirement and have gone on to second careers. Fortunately, for agriculture, many of them have chosen to continue their work, opting to do so on their terms, in retirement, rather than on the university's terms.
Though agriculture is now a high tech, high risk, high pressure business, compared to the early days of my ag career, the people are still the same. The names and titles change, but the people who make agriculture a career, really make it a lifelong journey and new people who come into the industry have the same core philosophies as those who leave it.
In my new job at Southeast Farm Press, the people are the most interesting and exciting aspect of my work. Even though I've been around agriculture for a while, there is always something new and exciting to learn, like carbon trading and sprite melons, both of which you can read about it in upcoming issues of Southeast Farm Press.
If you have interesting stories, or if our paths crossed somewhere along this journey, I'd love hear from you.